There is no such thing as meaningless

“Meaningless!  Meaningless!” says the Teacher, “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless”  Ecclesiastes 1:1

How odd for Solomon to begin his discussion regarding God and wisdom with a statement like that.  I have heard that the word that is translated as “meaningless” can also be translated as “vapor”… which kind of makes sense.  A king such as Solomon could have everything he wanted, more than anything I can ever imagine, yet he yearned for wisdom.  He wanted meaning.  He wanted to know what made his life worth living.  Solomon tried to prove that his wisdom, which was granted to him by God, was everything — wise investments in farming (reservoirs for his orchards), architecture, life itself.  Yet, he says that all is meaningless, is vapor.  He knew.

We all know that.  We have witnessed it, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of celebrities.  While the thought of winning the lottery, becoming rich and famous, sounds so appealing, we know what a curse it can be.

So what gives life meaning?  What is your experience?  I know what mine is.

People.  Family.

That may seem odd coming from a guy who is fairly recently divorced.  Family is not exactly the boon of many guys who have chosen to leave and divorce.  Yet, more often than not, the separation from children gives more value to what we had.  We value the relationship with our kids even more.  We wish there could be more.  We remember what it was like to invest in our children as they grew up, give them our time and resources and whatever it was we could give.  Once they are away from us, probably before, we realize what meaning they give to our lives.  I know that I remember how much sacrifice and time I gave to my children, to my family, over the years and I realize how important they are to me.  It is my children who give me meaning, especially as they become adults and prove what may or may not have been invested in them.

My children love their mother.  I both love and hate that.  Even now, I see them talk about her as their best friend and influence, wonder why they don’t remember what I did for them.  It is tough.  Fathers do what they can — coach, provide, be there as much as they can, offer whatever they have as wisdom whenever they get the chance, do the best they can to be a role model.  I know I did.  What I also did was let their mother be the best mother she could be, watched her sink every bit of her into a relationship with our children (often at the expense of her relationship with me) while I survived a job and other responsibilities.. all of which is supposed to provide meaning.  In the end, they will remember that I was there, but not respect me in the same way as they do their mother.

Where is the meaning in that?  I have two pretty terrific children who are shaping up to be even more terrific adults.

For me, it is the people who touch my life that give me meaning.  Oddly, yet not really all that odd, I think I have met through blogging.  That is a lot of people, people who have become real and true friends.  There are friends who I have met through cycling, a lot over the years, friends who see me for my skills (some years outstanding, some years pedestrian, some years lacking) and also for my willingness to share our lives.  That holds true for friends I know through church, through work, as neighbors.  It is those friendships that give me meaning.

This weekend is a good example of that.  It should have been a bit sad, a year long dating relationship ended by my choice, but in reality God has provided a quick healing through people who I know — time spent together Friday and Saturday evening with my friends Jim and John, cycling Saturday morning with my friends Greg and Ernesto, a wonderful time worshipping with a friend (and her husband) that I have know since high school, a wonderful new bicycle provided to me by another friend (and a bicycle that has already opened me up to new and beautiful adventure).

A few pictures from this weekend —

 

 

 

 

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Snow is Wonderful

img_20190112_100734761_hdrI have no words.  I couldn’t stop riding this morning.  As soon as the flakes started floating down, my new fat bike was on its way to the trails.  Four hours later I still wanted to keep riding.

I am going back tomorrow.  I may play hooky this Monday.

The bike floats over the trail.  It digs in.  Climbs like a 🐐.

I am in lust.

I Roll Out My Fatty

img_20190105_101855175_hdrThis past Saturday was a gloriously clear, brisk, calm morning with low to mid thirties temperature.  For January, it was one of those gifts that any person who enjoys cycling must take advantage of.  Skipping a ride is not an option.  I didn’t.  After all, I was meeting my friend Jeremy to get the fat bike he sold to me.  That was another reason to feel the glory of the day!

I met Jeremy at his townhome around 9 AM, after stopping at Starbuck’s for a coffee and to kick back with a book.  We took a few minutes monkeying around getting the fat tires to fit the trays on my bike rack.  It was a trick to get the hold down bar on the rack over the taller 4.5″ front tire of the 9:Zero:7 fat bike.  We added straps on both wheels to stabilize the bike, so it wouldn’t roll off the rack when taking a turn.  Both bikes on the car rack, satisfied they were secure, we set off for the short trip to one of Jeremy’s favorite feel good rides, a prairie trail that meanders through the woods here and there.  It would be a nice test for the fat tired bike, as well as a good place for a easy conversational type of ride, the type of ride we seem to prefer when riding together.  My friend is gracious to me — he could tear my legs off if he wanted to, but rides to my pace.

I absolutely love the bike.  Riding a fat tired bike is a definite change from the dual suspension mountain bike that is my usual ride.  I won’t even compare it to the titanium road bike that is my road ride (harsh, but light and fast.. oops, I compared) or my steel hybrid or other rides.  Yes.  I have a few bikes.  When going up, I was astonished at how easily the bike negotiated the climb, the wider tread digging in.  Let’s just say my cheeks on my face hurt from smiling, not my other cheeks.  My other cheeks were very dirty.

Which got a comment from a random, very embarrassed woman at the restaurant we went to for lunch.  You have a very dirty butt she said to me in a very suggestive tone (seriously, she did).  Thanks, I get that all of the time was my reply, as the woman blushed from her comment.  It was true, my backside was so filthy that I had to wipe down the chair after I left, as well as my car seat after I got home.

Getting me to let loose of some money is a major miracle.  Today, there is not a bit of buyer’s remorse.  This purchase was worth it, the experience of riding unique, just as the bike is.  Buying it will mean adjusting my budget for the next few months, but the smile on my face is worth tightening my wallet for a while.

Fatty

My new ride, purchased from a friend.  I rode it with him last week and loved the ride.  He offered me a price I couldn’t refuse, threw in the 29 wheelset.

fb_img_15466299742952016 9:zero:7 Fat Bike
Large / 19″
Front 26×4.5 Kenda tire
Rear 26×4.0 On-One Fatty
Carbon fork
Salsa hubs 135mm/170mm
Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes
180mm rotors
Avid Speed Dial Levers
Sram 1×9 grip X0/X9 shift drivetrain
780mm bars
Red/White/Blue reflective rim strips

ALSO… 29er wheelset… cassette and discs
Swap out the wheels and go from a fatty to a fast rolling trail bike with 700 x 38 Reflective Slicks

The bike is light, fits me perfectly, and it gives me something to ride this winter.

I have always wanted a fat bike!

 

But What Am I?

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I had an evil thought yesterday.

Yes, just one.

Then I thought a little more about what that thought entailed.  What it really would have made me was a childish tattletale.  I may be childish, but I am no tattletale snitch, no matter who I would be telling on.

Go ahead, stick your tongue out at me.  You are rubber and I am glue.

I could play the silly snitch game if I wanted to.  The opportunity is there.  The object would deserve it.  While checking with property management yesterday to see if it would cost me if I kept my daughter’s car in my garage or driveway, I did something that some people don’t do — I checked the condo association rules and answered my own question.

VII.  VEHICLE REGULATIONS

A.  Residents are provided an easement to a garage for indoor parking and to the adjoining driveway for outdoor parking.  Guest parking spaces located throughout the property are primarily for the use of guests.  Homeowners are required to use their garages and driveways for parking.

Hold on a second… my nasty downstairs neighbor parks her car in her garage, but her husband parks his truck in a guest parking spot.  He leaves her driveway open, probably so he won’t upset her delicate psyche.  THEY ARE BREAKING THE RULES!eg

Those naughty people.  Tsk tsk tsk.

The little devil on my shoulder tempted me to say something.  After all, she has ratted me out plenty of times in less than two years.  She DESERVES it.  After all, she continues to bang on her ceiling every time she hears a noise from above, turns on her garbage disposal when she thinks I run my kitchen faucet for too long, steps outside and yells up at me when any or most things annoy her.  She DOES DESERVE it.

No, I will not play that game.

 

So what if it’s not January 1?

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Recently, I shared here that I am trying out a fitness app and using the diary feature to log my food and calorie intake.  The log takes into account any exercise for the day, a helpful motivator that helps keep it real for me.  I set a reasonable goal for weight loss and control of two pounds a week, which for a guy my age and height is 1500 calories per day.  If that sounds difficult, think again.  It’s not been difficult at all.  Since the app also has a food blog with tons of healthy recipes that are also good meals, it’s literally been a piece of cake (strawberry banana bread, actually).  Using the app has provided the discipline that my personality requires, so I have not missed a day of logging since I started nearly four weeks ago.  I can’t give a weight I am at right now because I don’t have a scale, but I know where I started.  I also know that there were clothes, especially jeans, that I couldn’t wear a month ago because they were uncomfortably tight.  Those jeans are now loose on me.

For an example of the report the diary generates, here is today’s count as of lunch.  Because of two hours of exercise this morning (that will change once I go back to work), I have some fudge (yes, real chocolaty fudge) in the calorie count today —

MyFitPal 122718

Optimism abounds for me right now, not always my state of mind this time of year when it comes to my body.  Instead of sinking into a winter pudginess, I am going the other direction.  Perhaps the old ladies at the pool this next summer will be impressed?

It doesn’t hurt that December started with snow, then turned mild.  Combined with extra days off, there has been ample opportunity to ride outside, something I have taken advantage of.  My mountain bike suffered a minor breakdown Monday, a broken rear derailleur, but thankfully I had an extra part and chain waiting — I am a little hard on that particular bike component and was ready for it.  I did use the breakage to scam a test ride on my buddy’s extra fat bike yesterday, a beast with 4.5″ tires.  Since I live alone, the Plus One factor does not affect me, so the call of new bike is very loud right now.

Here’s a picture taken last Sunday — because I know there are those who will be insisting I prove the above.  Yes, that’s my ‘lady friend’.  It’s obvious I have some ways to go, but my goal is a few months away.

IMG_20181227_075330553

 

Preferred Freeze

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I never intended to end up with vacation days left this time of year, but it happened.  It just happened.  Last week, my boss and coworker both encouraged me to take the 3.5 days I had available.  So… I did.

The thing about riding dirt and sand in a mild weather December is timing.  Yes, nice comfortable temperatures during the day are wonderful, but a dirt trail turns to wet mush as the overnight freeze begins to thaw.  What does that mean to a mountain bike rider?

It means that to get a ride in, one must get out on the trail as early in the morning as possible, preferably as soon as the sun rises enough to cast light in the woods and while the top layer of dirt is still frozen.  It’s not as treacherous riding frozen dirt and sand as it sounds.  In many ways, it’s better than riding a dry trail in the summer.  Frozen dirt is usually tacky, with extra traction.  In January, riding can be more treacherous due to ice, but December riding can be fast.

IMG_20181217_102057360_HDRThe woods on a crisp winter morning are absolutely gorgeous.  I made it to the trailhead around 7:30 yesterday morning, the only other riders in the lot three guys who I could have sworn were ZZ Top.  No lie.  Two older guys with shaggy full beards and one totally normal looking guy.  They looked like serious riders, so instead of joining them I said my good mornings as I made a few adjustments to the rear shock on my bike, then rode in on my own.  A few minutes later, I crossed paths with all three guys while riding the most technical trail in the park.  While I could have kept up, it was obvious that it would have been a more intense ride than I wanted yesterday.  I just wanted to enjoy the quiet, occasionally push things a bit, get a few hours in on the bike.

I changed up my normal routine, warmed up on the trails at the front of the park.  Those trails are more challenging, a few of the trails new with challenging transitions, built on top of and in between tall berms.  They are a hoot.  There are a few drop offs that are just that — straight down and high.  I wanted to ride those before the sun started to thaw things out.

IMG_20181217_102108393_HDRThe back end of the park has a sandy section.  There is one spot that starts high in an open and sandy area, turns sharply to the left, then swoops back into the woods.  If the left turn is taken high, I can get some decent air and kick the rear wheel out before coming down and turning back into the woods.  Usually I get my wheels just enough off of the ground to make it a tiny bit of a rush.  This time, the frozen sand made it possible to take a lot of speed into the turn.  I flew, landed perfectly and caught air again over a root.  I whooped so loud I probably scared every wild animal away for miles.  I may never make that jump like that again, but for a few seconds I felt like a stud.

 

Health Insurance Roulette

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One of the more frustrating challenges in the past few years, especially since I changed employers March 2014, has been affordable health insurance.  When I was fired, I lost the BCBS family silver PPO that my employer subsidized.  It had been close to 25 years since I had to worry about health insurance for myself or for my family, the cost of my insurance and insurance for my family subsidized by my employer.  The pay I received from that job was bad to marginal but the health insurance benefit was above average and good, the $28 deduct from my weekly paycheck worth every penny.  Suddenly, I was faced with paying for COBRA insurance, then working through the then new federal Healthcare Marketplace.  I was offered a job two days after I was fired, but my new employer was small — a three person office with me being the only official full time domestic employee of a company based in eastern Europe.  There would be no company health insurance benefit, although the job offer included a monthly allowance for my family’s health insurance.  Even then, I would be required to pay roughly 75% of the insurance cost.

One note — I am very proud to be able to say that was only unemployed for two days.  The word of my demise spread quickly, as nasty stories have a tendency to do, and someone with my reputation and experience is rare in the industry I serve.  There was a lot of interest to hire me and the company who hired me was very happy to get someone with my experience.  Unfortunately, I needed a month to recover from the stress I had been through in the months/years leading up to the incident that led to my firing.  So much had been heaped on me for a long time, combined with financial and family/marital stress that added to the stress at work, that I had reached a breaking point.  While my employer had been extremely cruel to me, I hadn’t helped myself with my final reaction, which had been to tell my boss to fire truck off — he had been looking for a reason to fire me and was intentionally trying to push me over the edge.  After a long Wednesday that had been preceded by several long days and months of constant ruthless badgering by my boss, I handed the reason to him on a silver platter.  I can only say that I have had to learn some hard lessons about dealing with anger properly.  It’s not that I was an angry, raging lunatic, but I tried to avoid losing my temper so much that it wasn’t healthy in a lot of ways.  It hurt me physically and there were times where the frustration became too much for me to handle.  That time of my life taught me a lot of lessons, the stress actually pushing my body past its limits.  It was a good thing that I had good health insurance at the time!

For the record, no matter what my ex says, curse words are not a normal part of my daily vocabulary.  I know how many times she heard me curse in the 25 years we were married — so few that I can count the number of times on one hand.  Saying fire truck to my boss means that I was stressed out of my mind.  The day before the firing, the stress had been so bad that I had to go out to my car so that coworkers would not have to watch me lose it.  I sat in my car weeping uncontrollably for a good half hour.

I negotiated the dark waters of that first open enrollment fairly well, barely making the deadline for the 2014 open enrollment.  My son was diagnosed with borderline ADHD when he was 10 years old, prescribed the expensive medicines that go along with it.  I didn’t agree with the diagnosis then, don’t agree now, definitely question the necessity of the medications.  My boy has been exposed to an amphetamine that he will never be able to quit taking.  Those medications and the psychiatric care that goes with them make it a challenge to get affordable health insurance for him.  Most plans do not include those medications or psychiatric care.  If they do, they are very expensive.  That meant that the federal subsidy was necessary to keep the monthly insurance payment below $1000 per month.

The PPO for 2014 was discontinued at the end of 2014.  The plan that replaced it cost three times as much, making it impossible to afford even with the federal subsidy.  Through the Marketplace, I found another lower tier PPO that covered the medications required and was roughly the same cost.  It was supposed to also include the pediatrician and doctors we used.  The monthly federal subsidy was a little higher.  After signing up, we found out that our doctors had dropped out of the PPO’s network.  We were screwed for 2015.  So, when that PPO was also discontinued at the end of 2015 and replaced once again by a far more expensive PPO, I changed to an HMO for 2016 that was affordable.

2016 was the year the divorce started, although we didn’t separate until April 2017.  Late 2016, I took an advance from my retirement fund to pay off outstanding credit card debt (another stress for years, as well as a symptom of a terrible marriage).  When 2016 taxes were filed and my wife and I had separated, I received a letter from the IRS that advised that our 2016 income had exceeded the maximum combined income to receive the federal health insurance subsidy — which meant that I had less than two weeks to come up with the nearly $7000 to pay back the total 2016 insurance subsidy.  Since each of us had changed addresses, the letter got to me after the due date to pay the $7000, resulting in a hefty penalty for late payment.

This story is getting long.  Let’s just say that I was fortunate to have the money from my portion of the sale of our house.  Otherwise, it would have been much more difficult to deal with.  As it was, it depleted my savings to near nothing, making the first year of divorce a quite bit more uphill financially.  I am thankful that I planned my post divorce budget well, something I think my ex hates.  She suspects I have unlimited finances, I think, judging from the way she asks for money.  Truthfully, if I don’t stick to the budget I have set, I would be hurting.  God help me if there is an emergency (like my car is strongly hinting at now).

Things like unexpected changes to health insurance premiums can really mess with that budget.  This month, I start paying on the Parent Plus loan that I had to take out during my daughter’s junior and senior years of college.  I planned on that, but it means my budget is even more tight.  To avoid the excessive health insurance premiums and possible federal health insurance subsidy issue, this year I avoided the federal Marketplace altogether.  Instead of health insurance, I enrolled in a federally recognized health share for myself.  I found an inexpensive health insurance plan for my son — and found out that I either misunderstood what the salespeople told me or I was lied to.  His plan is a supplementary plan, not intended to be the health insurance plan.  It also doesn’t cover his prescriptions or psychiatric care, something I was careful about when shopping for his insurance, so I know I was lied to in that case.  His insurance is definitely not the plan I was told it would be.  It sounded too good to be true and it was too good to be true, as is usually the case.

So, my son needs to find insurance that meets his needs.  I have been asking him to come over to my place so we can look into a new plan for him, cancel the plan he has now.  I can’t cancel his insurance because legally I am not allowed.  I also want to see if he qualifies for a federal subsidy on his own, probably the way we can afford the insurance he needs.  I have to pay for his insurance, 100% of it, per the divorce agreement.

He is avoiding me.  Until yesterday, he ignored my phone calls and text messages.  He has done that for weeks.  I would have tried to get his mother involved, but wanted to give Nate a shot first, let him learn how to do it on his own.  I have communicated the reason why it needs to be done this way.  The open enrollment period ends this Saturday.  It has to be started a few days before or else there will be trouble.

They both answered me, partially, yesterday.  When I say partially, both said they received my messages.  So I encouraged her (and said it has to be done) to work with him to get enrollment started in the next two days.  I said I have to approve any plan enrollment before they enroll, as I have to get it approved for my employer to pay their portion.

Crickets.

The challenge isn’t just dealing with the health insurance itself.  This would be difficult if the divorce had never happened.  Dealing with it with all the angst of the divorce is making it a real challenge.  Trying to get both my son and my wife to work on getting the health insurance questions resolved requires patience… and prayer.

Cautiously Ecstatic

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two yellow plushtoy on brown bench

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am doing a happy dance right now, Snoopy style, without heels.  Those are next.  It’s a cautious happy dance, however, filled with the careful doubt that comes with hearing a rumor.

Hallelujah, praise Jehoshaphat!  If there were pews in my condo unit, I would be jumping them with concrete boots on, running up and down the aisles without a care in the world.

No, I am not pregnant, even with my winter gut in full rut.

No, Elizabeth Perkins did not accept one of my proposals, nor did she issue another restraining order.

No, every single possible song “performed”  and recorded by Cher or Bette Midler has not been permanently and irreparably destroyed.

Specialized has not issued me a free pass to any bike in their stable, with free upgrades for life.

I don’t buy lottery tickets.

So, you may ask, why am I so overjoyed?

The wicked witch may be leaving Oz.  I won’t have to throw a bucket of water on her or dodge flying monkeys.  My lady friend will not be required to march across my dining room floor in her high heeled ruby slippers.  Rumor is that my polish persimmon princess of a downstairs neighbor is going to list her condo unit for sale come this Spring.

How do I know this, you may ask?  You may ask.

My newest neighbor, Carol, moved in next door to me earlier this year.  Carol is a pleasant retired widow, one of those sunny characters who always greets me with a smile.  We became friends almost right after she moved in, when she rolled out of her garage on her bicycle in full cycling regalia.  I was out front loading my mountain bike on my car, so she came over to ask if I would loan her my bike tire pump.  In the evenings, we often exchange pleasantries across the balcony.

Carol is also a bit of a gossip.  That is coming in handy as I have found out.  You see, Carol is home during the day, as is Teresa the Terrible.  Recently, they met each other while Carol was walking her dog.  Teresa shared stories about the devil that lives above her.

Carol figured out who she was talking about.  🙂

Carol could not wait to tell me that she had met my best fan.  She laughed and said that if she didn’t already know me, she would have thought that Teresa really has a jerk for a neighbor.

This morning, as I took my trash out to the corner.

No, I don’t own a Trek any more.

I digress.  As I took my trash out to the corner, Carol emerged from her garage, smirk pasted on her face.  She informed me that she had news I might be just a little happy to hear.  TERESA TOLD HER SHE IS LISTING HER CONDO UNIT FOR SALE IN THE SPRING!

Anyone want to be my neighbor?

Crisco is not the Answer

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This time of year is always filled with transitions, changes required due to cold weather coming on and the snow/moisture that comes with it, as well as the decreased amount of daylight available.  As soon as I come home, I am greeted by the mass of Christmas decorations that adorn my condominium unit, a brightly lit and Cardinal infested tree in front of my living room windows reminding me that the season has begun.  When I wake in the morning, I am reminded quickly that my exercise and diet need to be adjusted to a disciplined routine, my waist straining to overtake my jeans as I pull them on.

Warning — Using Crisco to facilitate pulling on tight pants is not recommended.  People question the stains and lard can cause a painful rash.  Shoehorns are also not recommended as they can get stuck.. or lost depending on the extent of your “transition”.

Last night I visited a friend for a night of watching football, something that is becoming a bit of a weekly thing.  When I arrived, he was showing another friend the bicycle training set up in his kitchen.

Yes, we’re single men.  Single men are able to keep bicycles inside the house without fear of repercussion or bicycle destruction at the hands of a distressed female.

kickr_snap_ls.jpgJohn has a nice set up, his Cervelo connected to a Wahoo Kickr resistance trainer.  That trainer transmits via Bluetooth to a PC which has a Zwift subscription.  Zwift is a training app that controls the resistance as you “train” online with (or against) friends, a virtual group ride through various simulated terrain.  My friend’s eyes glistened as he described a recent training ride where he and another friend dropped the lead group, then carefully waited for the right moment to sprint to the finish line.  John raised an arm in triumph as he recalled edging his “training partner” at the line.

Let me pause as I wipe the drool off of my keyboard.  I WANT THAT TRAINING SET UP!  Can you say ho ho ho?

This time of year can be filled with dreams of training sugar plums.  Last Friday morning, my friend Mike gleefully showed me the app he uses for his diet and training.  Mike is a body builder, so he watches his calorie intake closely.  He has some cred, enough that I respect what he is telling me.  Mike uses an app called My Fitness Pal, something I think I am going to try to help me make it through the Winter transition.  The app is free, with a premium option, so it can’t hurt to try.  It features a dietary log with tons of restaurant food and recipes loaded in to aid in tracking calories.  Favorite recipes can be saved, a useful tool when setting up a menu and grocery list.

We shall see.  My best riding seasons have been preceded with a disciplined off season that includes some kind of electronic resistance training (usually Computrainer) and diet.

Happy Transition-mas!!!